Experts: Gov’t may never stabilize hundreds of explosive drums of radioactive waste stored at WIPP — Nuclear dump now at risk of closing permanently — Ruined for good by kitty litter? (AUDIO)

Published: May 23rd, 2014 at 8:27 pm ET


The Verge, May 23, 2014: Radioactive kitty litter may have ruined our best hope to store nuclear waste; Billions invested in an underground New Mexico repository could be wasted […] The most dangerous nuclear waste in the US is currently scattered between 77 locations all over the country, awaiting permanent storage. Until February, many experts suggested that the best place to put it was [WIPP…] two emergencies brought that suggestion – and WIPP’s future – into question. […] The damage and the resulting radiation leak could close the facility, experts say. […] the real lesson here may lie in the fragility of even the best nuclear storage facility. Corrective action at WIPP could be a massive undertaking. How many other barrels contain the dangerous organic cat litter? Are all of those barrels underground at WIPP? […] if the DOE decides stabilizing or repackaging the material is unjustified, that would close WIPP for good.

Per Peterson, UC Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering: “Expert assessment will be needed [to] determine whether the safety benefits of stabilizing or repackaging the material in these drums are justified by the risk to personnel who would attempt to do this work.”

Norbert T. Rempe, PhD, former WIPP principal engineer for decades: “If [WIPP permanently closed], it would be a shame and a disaster […] we have no idea how long this will take until WIPP is back to normal operations, or what the new normal operations will be […] No one knows right now. And it could be a long time before anyone knows.”

Jim Conca, writer at Forbes, geologist who worked for years at WIPP: “It could shut down the most successful nuclear repository in history.”

NPR, May 23, 2014: Organic litter is […] is full of chemical compounds that can react with the nuclear waste. “They actually are just fuel, and so they’re the wrong thing to add,” [Conca] says.

Ryan Flynn, New Mexico’s secretary of the environment: It is clear that the wrong material went into some of the drums. […] “Ultimately [the waste is] the responsibility of the Department of Energy. It’s also now their responsibility to clean it up and fix it.”

Carlsbad Current Argus, May 23, 2014: More than 350 barrels of waste containing the suspect chemical mixture are currently stored at WIPP

NPR broadcast on the WIPP nuclear accident here

Published: May 23rd, 2014 at 8:27 pm ET


Related Posts

  1. Officials now admit over 500 barrels of nuclear waste at risk of bursting open — AP: 368 already at WIPP dump — “New Mexico sees ‘imminent’ danger” — State orders WIPP to prevent “health or environmental threat”; Must ‘permanently seal’ underground storage areas May 21, 2014
  2. ‘Kitty litter’ blamed for explosive nuclear leak at WIPP — “Incredibly important to act quickly” — ‘All these drums’ are at risk, including at other sites — Must be gathered ‘right away’ before they also burst — Summer heat will increase instability — Storage rooms must be sealed off to contain future ‘events’ May 10, 2014
  3. Expert: ‘Cracked’ nuclear container “blew top off” at WIPP — Hundreds more drums at dump risk ‘energetic reaction’ and radiation release — Insider: Get forklift and remove them before another accident — Official: No ‘imminent’ public threat ‘at this time’ (VIDEO) May 19, 2014
  4. New emails reveal concern over plutonium chain reaction in WIPP containers — “There shouldn’t be a ‘significant’ reaction… criticality safety issues are not my area of expertise” — “Significant amount of plutonium” — No mention of kitty litter May 29, 2014
  5. TV: US Senators want federal agents near WIPP to check if safe; “A lot more people could have been hurt a lot worse” — Public “skeptical whole truth about environmental risks shared” — Report: “It will shut WIPP down for a year or more, and now everyone is talking about maybe WIPP is no good” (VIDEO) March 27, 2014

165 comments to Experts: Gov’t may never stabilize hundreds of explosive drums of radioactive waste stored at WIPP — Nuclear dump now at risk of closing permanently — Ruined for good by kitty litter? (AUDIO)

  • rogerthat

    WIPP Update | Watch the video – Yahoo News
    Yahoo! News
    23 hours ago

    ''…according to our partners at the journal, there are talks under way right now to expand the wipp and its underground facility''…

  • Heart of the Rose Heart of the Rose

    From 1:24 ..look at the standing water.

  • Heart of the Rose Heart of the Rose

    They have no bloody idea karst conditions work.

  • Sol Man

    You would have been fortunate if you had read the old Berkeley Barb
    and seen Eldridge Cleaver's new fashion invention of blue jeans with the place for the shaft of a man's penis to be exhibited on the outside of the jeans. This was mid-60's. I guess that the idea didn't take off. I do wish that I had kept a few copies.

    Anyway with that shared on this open forum it might be a good time to provide another fashion item for sold out politicians. It would be a fine woven gaberdine or silk pair of slacks with a secret slot at the hind end for the insertion and back and forth movement of the huge corporate dick. These bribed men and women have sold out the world.

  • Heart of the Rose Heart of the Rose

    What..are they going to try and close the already existing panels..
    without proper ventilation ..and dig another hole right next to it?
    They only bother themselves. with the intrusions they make as they make them..
    They never consider the intrusion of the facility in its entirety. and what the effect will be through time.

  • TooExpensiveToMatter

    No need to shut it down.

    Isn't the whole point of the new scoopable kitty litter so you can scoop out the potentially explosive parts?

  • ftlt

    From WIKI I assume this was the plan once WIPP had been filled.

    I guess, it is the plan if abandoned now too.

    """"Following the interment of waste in the facility, the storage caverns will be collapsed and sealed with 13 layers of concrete and soil. Salt will then seep into and fill the various fissures and cracks surrounding the casks of waste. After approximately 75 years, the waste will be completely isolated from the environment.[33]""""

    I ask what if rainfall patterns change over time and this salt deposit is subjected to long term flooding? Is it resistant to that?

    This is all SO NUTZ!!! I am often stunned by the hubris and stupidity of engineers!!! The nuke ones are truly mad!!!

  • Sickputer

    Sorry if this is a dupe URL, but it's got some good insight about the WIPP situation:

    Radiation Release From Federal Facility Still Stymies Experts
    By William Boardman
    24 May 14

    SP: Conca receives some skeptical commentary from Will:

    "Exploring the kitty litter theory in Forbes May 10, long-time nuclear industry employee James Conca wrote about the issue, without really explaining it:…"

    "Conca’s “15 years of perfect operations” omits the February 5 vehicle fire underground that led to the WIPP shutdown that continues into the present. One reason the radiation release of February 14 exposed only 20 or so people was because the underground operation was shut down and no workers were in the cavern. Conca also omits mention of WIPP’s anticipation of perfect operation for 10,000 years.

    Conca does note that “Nitrate salt solutions can ignite when they dry out,” but he does not mention the cellulose inherent in the “green” kitty litter. Maybe it’s not relevant, but nitrocellulose, also called cellulose nitrate or flash paper, has long been known as a highly flammable compound. And cellulose is also part of composition of the salt mine in which WIPP is located."

    SP: Also a remark about the Texas barrels:

    "New Mexico has no jurisdiction over the estimated 100-plus nitrate salt bearing containers [in Texas].

    • Sickputer


      A Texan myself, I am not surprised at the lack of Austin interest in this potential environmental debacle. Our taller Huey Long has no interest in doing anything to offend the nucleorats. Too busy drumming up any out of state business interested in spending money in Texas. Bring us your poor, your tired, your huddled polluting masses yearning to be free. 🙂

    • CodeShutdown CodeShutdown

      No jurisdiction for the explosive barrels?! Thats about as funny as TEPCO explaining they arent liable for the fallout because "THAT fallout cant be ours, its on YOUR property!"

      • Sickputer

        Yes, the 100 potentially explosive barrels west of Andrews have been officially Texanized. Too dangerous to move and New Mexico officials will certainly stress they have plenty of their own to deal with so don't bother trying to give them back.

        Regardless of that one-year $8 million dollar deal for the Andrews bunch. Speaking of that…since they didn't get all the Los Alamos barrels per contract I guess their Christmas bonus will be short a few million. Unless Uncle Sammy pitches in some extra money for the fabric "dome" they have guarding those troubled plutonium barrels.

        I am sure that maybe they can even swing a $100,000 Mestex building with HEPA filtering and air-conditioning once the Texas folks wake up to the fact they may have those little powder kegs for a long, long time.

        • Radio Radio

          SP, the barrels have not been shown to actually be packed in the kitty litter. That is a story being floated. Like WMDs in Iraq. It becomes self reinforcing each time it makes print. There is no bill of lading, no shipping invoice, nothing so far that shows any of the barrels were ever packed in this material.

          That aside, these barrels can simply explode on their own as they jostle down the highway. But, let's just say that isn't likely. But, what is likely is this – Arnie made it pretty clear yesterday that the barrel contents would have first leaked into any such packing material, and that this leaking and the jostling in combination with the material would create the explosion. Conca says a dry explosion MIGHT have occurred IF the material was used. I believe that he is being purposefully incorrect in order to deflect the dangers of transporting and then storing these barrels once jostled in order to force the decision to reopen WIPPS. He's got everyone thinking barrels packed in this material are scattered everywhere and ready to explode because they are packed in this material. The must get to WIPPS now! he claims. But, in reality, they are ready to explode once shipped wherever they are and regardless of the packing, but, if the packing is chemically synergesic, as corn would be, then an already leaking barrel has a greater chance of igniting.

      • We Not They Finally

        If WIIP blows up this summer how many humans will eventually perish???

  • Sickputer

    Actually I am not trying to be facetious about the barrel situation. I am offering good advice. A Mestex building would be a good start at helping defuse the crisis at Los Alamos and Andrews.

    Even better…demand the WIPP folks build two steel and concrete bunkers…within 30 days. Bill the Feds. They started the mess 50 years ago with their Atoms for Peace.

    • The Mestex building would put a lid on the crisis, but if a barrel explodes inside the Mestex/HEPA environment, now you have a contaminated Mestex building which will be much more complicated to resolve than WIPP Panels 6 & 7.

      • Sickputer

        So you suggest just leaving those suspect barrels at WCS under a fabric dome? How is that going to stop downwind fallout to 30 million people in Texas?

        • NO, absolutely not! I support your suggestion of the Mextex building being built asap!

          I'm just saying that even the Mestex building is likely to have a bad outcome if a barrel explodes inside.

  • Sickputer

    The history of the Texas nuclear dump is in this 2011 Forbes piece:

    "Three staff members at the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality quit their jobs after their concerns that the nuke dump could pollute ground water with radiation were ignored. They believe that the uppermost layer of the massive Ogallala Aquifer lay just 14 feet below the dump.

    And if not the Ogallala, then it might be the Pecos Valley Aquifer. WCS has reportedly said that any such concerns are unjustified, though the D Magazine article explains that maps prepared by the Texas Water Development Board show that the areas where the nuke dump is located … “is underlain by four aquifers. In addition to the Dockum, there are three major aquifers: Ogallala (or High Plains), Pecos Valley (or Cenozoic Pecos Amuluvium), and Edwards-Trinity Plateau. The TWDB and USGS websites both state that the Edwards-Trinity Plateau Aquifer is hydraulically connected to four major aquifers, including the Ogallala, and several minor aquifers, including the Dockum.”

    "None of that, nor a history of accidental contaminations at the site, nor outcry from environmental groups, stopped Texas’ Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission from voting to approve the import of nuclear waste into Texas from other states. Six of the seven members of that commission were appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who reportedly received $250,000 in campaign cash from Simmons for the 2008 governor’s race". Link below


        unbelievable, Sickputer…

      • obewanspeaks obewanspeaks

        .. 🙁

      • Radio Radio

        Thx for the post. There is no sheriff in town anymore.


          kinda what I was thinking, Radio. We really are on our own. It's get'n to the point where commonsense is no longer a factor in their thinking. I'm think'n the mindset that led to this stupidity must've evolved out of the "We Can Do No Wrong" mentality within the British and American military, after WWII. I mean, what's a drum or two of Pu239, between friends? These imbeciles (and that's exactly what they are) have essentially murdered their own great-grand-kids. What is the sense of securing the nation from both foreign and domestic threats, when it turns out, ones own organization was complicit in that nation's destruction? Or does the fact that one's long gone from their trusted position, absolve one from egregious violations of that trust?

          What a solemn Memorial Day this has become…

    • CodeShutdown CodeShutdown

      Gawd! How to pollute four major aquifers with one nuclear waste dump! Give up on the psycho leaders and "their planet" yet?
      It wouldnt surprise me at all if I wake to find this is all a dream…its just so ludicrously surreal…

      • HoTaters HoTaters

        Code, I keep waking up and realizing it is NOT A DREAM. Sigh. Surreal is a good word for it.

        Anti-anxiety meds come in handy on occasion. At least I'm not losing as much sleep over it any more.

  • rogerthat

    heart:: ''dig another hole''

    – conca's script: put all the bad kitties in the same basket as soon as possible.
    next step: seal it up as it is now too expensive ( too dangerous and too reactive) to rubbto run
    next step: drill a new hole, start a new (improved, ha ha) permanent ha ha bloody ha) nuclear waste repository and presumably spend another 7,5 billion US dollars in…

  • Sickputer

    Conca's latest Forbes article:

    Response To Nuclear Kitty Litter Is Moving Fast

    "Some decisions regarding these additives are vague and not attributable to a real chemist. Citric acid should never be used with metal-nitrate salts, because of the rapid evolution of heat. Similarly for acrylates. The use of organic additives for whatever purpose adds fuel to this mixture. And organic litters have the wrong properties for their intended function but being organic, they too add to the amount of fuel that could burn. I do think the correct litter alone would have prevented these reactions.

    When real chemists did look at this mixture, they were appalled."

    SP: So you blame it on some "fake" (unnamed) chemists?

    Conca: "Only 1.3 millicuries were released into the environment, most importantly americium (Am), but an amount of Am many times less than the Am in the smoke detectors of the nearby town of Carlsbad."

    SP: To echo the old Cold War president…"There you go again!"

    Plutonium waste is vastly different than smoke detectors. Did you know Jim that vaporized plutonium particles that are deadly to life are smaller than virus and bacteria particles? I am sure you do.

    Sealing up the dangerous rooms at WIPP is like putting a bandaid on severed finger stumps and then expect to keep playing the piano successfully.

    Don't play the poor woe is me New…

    • Sickputer

      …Mexico card. Hindsight is 20/20. You knew the history of the German salt cavern nuclear dumps and you still insist WIPP is somehow different. The only difference is the Germans gave up in shock after decades of disastrous results. WIPP can't escape the verdict of history.

      • Jebus Jebus

        Kinda validates to old adage, "Haste makes waste"…

        The industry really is in a frenzy. Rushing to prove that the nuclear waste can be handled safely, post Fukushima.

        Trying to maintain a facetious and faltering public image, takes much effort and "expert" decision making by those who are not so much.

        Meanwhile, the Age of Decay, creeps up, upon all life.

        There will be many more erroneous "expert" decisions made.

    • Radio Radio

      And, the really deceptive things is that Conca does not know if any of these substances were ever used. There was some onsite, and he is running with that. This interview, if not carefully sifted through for the "mights" and "maybes," makes the reader think that the new packing material was actually, in fact, used on these barrels in this shipment to WIPPS. There is still no evidence of that. So, this is "evidence making" via putting out a story then having the press repeat the story, sourcing it as the evidence! Very WMDish.

  • Occupant Occupant

    Why not just place all the barrrels out in an open unguarded unfenced field and call it a valuable cost reduction.

  • We Not They Finally

    Th problem is the demolition of the food chain….Radiation is killimg Planckton which is the main producer of 70& of all oxygen…
    Once that happens it just goes eventually to all species including homo sapiens…

  • Sickputer

    Another look at Conca's previous WIPP article 3 weeks ago:

    WIPP Is Still The Best and Only Choice For Nuclear Waste


    "We won’t know for certain until we get back in (a process that will takes weeks to months because we want to be really, really careful) but the only event we can think of to produce even this small amount is a large rock fall from the ceiling (or back) of Panel 7 that crushed one or more drums and caused a puff of material that was picked up by the 425,000 cubic feet-per-minute ventilation system and whisked down the exhaust system.

    Immediately, the Continuous Air Monitors (or CAMs) alarmed, and the ventilation switched to HEPA filtration that removes about 99.97% of particulates (this type of radiation is always in particulate form so can be filtered). 99.97% is not 100%, as anyone with bad allergies knows, and that difference is what was released."

    SP: Three weeks kitty litter was no even on Conca's radar. What other surprises can we expect from their hasty attempts to fill up New Mexico with every piece of nuclear debris in America?

    Conca: "WIPP is presently licensed only for nuclear bomb waste (transuranic or TRU) but was designed to hold any and all nuclear waste."

    SP: The Germans regret using a salt mine for their nuclear waste. Even granite repositories may not work (Google Olkiluoto).

    • SP: Three weeks kitty litter was no even on Conca's radar. What other surprises can we expect from their hasty attempts to fill up New Mexico with every piece of nuclear debris in America?

      Not on his public nuke shill radar, that is. He and his nuclear colleagues have probably discussed many other possible causes for the "heat event" and explosion in Panel 7.

      Before we had the kitty litter story, we had nothing except roof bolts or ceiling collapses. Those are quite different.

      So the real cause could be quite different again…quite different from kitty litter. Use your imagination.

      • TooExpensiveToMatter

        One interesting" thing about the kitty litter story is that it effectively implicates "greenies" trying to be environmentally conscious (or worse) with the supposed green kitty litter replacement.

        Many of these folks just hate environmentalists (the comments of many in the nuclear industry are often dripping with contempt for them), so it is hardly beyond the pale to think that this at least could have played a role in this "theory".

        It's worth noting that the whole kitty litter theory is just that at this point. There is no direct (experimental) confirmation that I am aware of. Nothing other than speculation by folks like Conca.

        That's not a valid way of doing science or engineering (very irresponsible, in fact) but it IS a good way to pawn off responsibility for your own f-ups on someone else that you do not like.

        It's also very "convenient" that the "theory" comes from someone who is not directly involved in the current WIPP program but was for many years. It gives current officials "plausible deniability" because Conca is actually speaking as a private individual, but at the same time enjoys "expert" standing at least in the public eye (he's a geologist, NOT a chemist, which is really required in this case).

        Not saying this is what has actually happened, but until there is actual concrete evidence (that has been checked by an independent lab), it has about as much credibility as the kitty litter theory, IMHO.

        • Radio Radio

          TETM, agreed. All around, it is a good deflection and misdirection of "concerns." Let the professionals handle it kinda thing, not those stupid saps who think going green will amount to anything meme. If i might add, Conca, who still has no actual paperwork or shipping bill that indicated such corn based litter was used, suggests it would have been a dry explosion. Arnie points out that if such stuff were used, and he wonders about that a little – no reason to doubt and no reason to believe the claim kinda thing – he says that the barrel would have leaked into the packing material and the movement during shipping exciting the new combination, so it would be the mixture and the movement that created the explosion. Conca, of course, knows this, but, is avoiding having the public draw the conclusion that the mixture will explode with or without kitty litter all on its own as it jostles down the highway.

    • TooExpensiveToMatter

      "99.97% is not 100%, as anyone with bad allergies knows and that difference is what was released.""

      Translation: no worries unless you happen to have a bad plutonium allergy (and even then it's nothing Plutonadryl can't cure)

      Are people like Conca for real or does the news media just make them up for a laugh on slow days?

  • FXofTruth

    So tell us again when we see all the cheap and clean nuclear power that was promised if the plants were built?

    Billions spent on a dumping site? Doesn't sound like a profitable business to be involved in to me! Oh but wait, the Public is involved in the nuclear waste disposal business! We are paying all the bills for it….Billions of dollars!

    I wonder if those billions could have been better spent on researching more efficient solar panels since the SUN POWERS THE ENTIRE GLOBE! One big "DUH" for not doing the obvious!

  • obewanspeaks obewanspeaks

    .. 🙂 Yep! We have robbers and morons in charge. 🙁

  • knowerxdg


  • Sickputer

    In March of 2013 the DOE and the others running WIPP requested from New Mexico regulatory officials permit modifications on the waste permit at WIPP.

    These changes were for operating procedures for panel closure (aka WPC…WIPP Panel Closure).

    I call attention to pages 6-8 of this 716 page document:

    WIPP officials request changing Option D for panel closure to a different type of procedures. They also requested elimination of longterm vapor monitoring in the closed panels.

    Page 6:

    "Revision to the panel closure system (PCS) design as specified in the document entitled Design Report for a Panel Closure System at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (see Attachment C).
    • Revision of some panel closure design requirements.
    • Deletion of the hydrogen and methane monitoring."

    Page 7:

    "The approved PCS, known as “Option D,” requires emplacing a 12-foot explosion-isolation wall and emplacement of a 26-foot monolith composed of Salado Mass Concrete (SMC). The new PCS, referred to as the WIPP Panel Closure (WPC), consists of two barriers (i.e., either two standard bulkheads or one standard bulkhead and one block wall, if a block wall was previously constructed in the panel) and emplacement of a minimum of 100 feet of run-of-mine salt between the two barriers."

    SP: Very interesting.

    • Sickputer

      Five weeks after the nuclear release at WIPP the New Mexican regulators denied the modification permit request:

      "The draft Permit for the Class 3 modification was issued for public comment on February 14, 2014. The public comment period was scheduled to conclude on April 15, 2014. In light of the recent events at WIPP, including the fire in the underground and the radioactive material release, NMED has requested, and will be requesting, additional information from WIPP related to these events and the Class 3 modification request, which may influence the draft Permit. All information obtained by NMED will be posted to its website promptly to ensure the public has the most up to date information on the events and the Class 3 modification request. Therefore, NMED is withdrawing the draft Permit effective immediately."

    • Those look like some serious freakin strong walls, they must be anticipating some massive explosions.

  • humptydumpty humptydumpty


  • mt1000

    on WIPP –
    CHRIS HARRIS – The "Green Kitty Litter Disaster"

  • Seeker

    Geologist who worked for years at WIPP: “It could shut down the most successful nuclear repository in history.”
    I hate to see his concept of nonsuccessful.

    A mail away degree, or just more B.S.?

  • Seeker

    Correction: I would hate to see…

    These drums are all over, some at Los Alamos. Do y'all remember when the massive forest fire came within FIFTY feet of the outside nuclear materials just sitting in tents on the ground approaching the Los Alamos buildings? At 50 feet the wind changed and the fire turned. That must have been one of the "successful" projects.

  • Heart of the Rose Heart of the Rose

    Nuclear-waste facility on high alert over risk of new explosions

    US repository scrambles to seal off barrels containing cat-litter buffer thought to be responsible for February accident.

    May 27 2013

  • Heart of the Rose Heart of the Rose

    typo .. 2014..

  • jec jec

    Government is investigating 'ground stablity in WIPP.' They need to look at theearthquake near WIPP today, at 32.68 and -105.6397. Not sure of size..but even a little wiggle..from fracking or NOT good for containers in WIPP. Has anyone suggested stopping fracking until the containers are REALLY secured? HUH??? Listening….intently.. So far, no whisper of sound or any pro-active suggestions from WIPP to the oil companies…or whomever is doing the fracking operations. Shake shake shake.

    • jec jec

      WIPP has 'insurance' to cover any damages to fracking operations..right? Lots of insurance if they have to buy out all the mineral and oil rights??